Wednesday, January 23, 2013

WW Review: Sandstone Cellars XI

Last Spring I attended the Hill Country Wine and Music Festival in Fredericksburg, TX. I sought out the wineries I didn't know: Fall Creek, CapRock, Duchman, and Sandstone Cellars. During the tasting, I was drawn to Sandstone Cellar's XI, a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Tourgia, and Viognier. When we finally visited, this same wine struck me again. I knew that this rare find -- a good buy at $25 -- was a wine I had to write about. This layered wine provided a complex experience that intrigued my senses and my mind.

Water Tower at Sandstone Cellars

One thing needs to be said about the wines at Sandstone Cellars: they are complicated. These are not easy-sipping wines that are drunk and forgotten about. These wines open up only to those who put in the effort. That said, the effort has an incredible pay-off. This is a journey. As Gary Jones from Texas Wine Camp puts it, "It's grown up wine."

The Tasting

Art by Bill Worrell
 The aroma is one of smoky fruit. It made me think of grilling fruit. There is that smoky edge that mingles with the sweetness of fruit; in this case, it is very dark berries. Hidden at the end of this is a tinge of tobacco, but it is hard to find without taking the time. All of these scents lead well into the actually tasting.

As I said earlier, this is a layered wine: one flavor gives way to another. The fact that the wine seems somehow light, is a surprise with all the flavors coming together. This lightness, my guess a result of the Viognier, provides a great platform for what could be very powerful flavors.

The first thing is fruit. This fruit is still a berry, but a much lighter one than the aroma. The aroma could be best described as more of a dark blackberry, but the taste is a soft strawberry. The fruit is rich and succulent, like a juicy ripe berry. This layer lures the taster in.

A smoke and earth undertone sits beneath the fruit, providing it a strong foundation. These flavors help the wine to stay dry, as well as engender a bolder sense of things. The earth -- a dry and rich sensation, is predominate, providing the boldness to the fruit -- as if the fresh tilled soil was a part of the flavor in the fruit. The smoke lingers though, helping to dry out the wine and keep it focused.

As the tasting continues, the two parts feel less like layers. It is not long before the two intermingle and blend. The two concepts become one as the rich and dry flavors settle down. This is finally extenuated by a quick end, like a crisp white wine (the Viognier maybe?).


This wine reminds me of a late Spring, early Summer afternoon rain.  Why so specific, because the odd layered sensation that later blends is more like a rain (not a storm) at that time of the year.

An early storm from Grape Creek, Fredericksburg, TX

Layered Moment
The beam, it slants
and casts a golden filter on the gray day.
Each blade of grass, a streak of emerald,
shines and cuts through the shadows
even as it slumps and jumps
back up under a raindrop's weight.

Sitting under the large canopy,
the leaves keep out most of the rain;
I can watch the rain soften the world,
make it sleek and new. 
I can know this moment
when dark and light meet
and share a space, 
make it more than it ought to be.

These sorts of rains come in slow, creeping across the sky. In the end, it does not get dark; instead, the sky is a light gray that is permeated by sunlight. Through the soft, dark clouds, the sun slips through. This is like the layering as the wine starts to blend -- they are separate at first, but in the end, they come together.

As a storm moves in -- San Antonio, TX
What I always find so remarkable during these showers is the light. It is almost as if a filter has been put on the sun, a filter that can bring out certain colors, make them more vibrant. The grass is often the most affected, as it turns a brilliant shade of emerald that doesn't seem like it should exist. This always makes the season seem ripe, in bloom. The wine's fruit flavors and the rich earthiness mirror this.

The soft light rain that comes down isn't slow, but it isn't fast, just even paced. The average size raindrops splatter into large bursts when they first hit the ground, making the less careful observer think that the rain is bigger and heavier than it is. Slowly, the ground turns slick, and it glistens with its thick coat. This is how it feels as the wine begins to blend. The fruit is deceptive -- it seems so rich, but in the end, it is a soft coat over the earthiness that feels fresh.

Summer Storm -- San Antonio, TX Medical Center area

Finally, this brief shower cools the day; it may still feel warm, but there is a sense of coolness when breathing in and out. Of course, the coolness becomes less noticeable as the world adjusts to it. The wine's different flavors are like these; they lose their individual power as they are more united; as we adjust to the them and they us, there is a comfort and ease that follows. It is at this point that the wine can be casually sipped without such meticulous observation.

Each Sandstone Cellars wine I have had takes me on a journey. Some offer me a challenge, a hike or climb in tough terrain, some of them are more like a good game, making me concentrate and focus on a goal. XI walks me through those days when I would sit outside and watch the showers stroll in and hold us in their power for a short while before strolling away. I remember many days just marveling at the sensations: the colors, the scents, the temperatures. This wine helps me to recapture such beautiful moments and relive them any time, any day, and any season.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On it's own: Visiting Sandstone Cellars

For over half a year, I kept saying I would made the trek out 87 towards Mason. Ever since I had a taste of Sandstone Cellars, I knew I had to have more. But one thing lead to another, and I just never made it out. At the end of November, I escaped my piles of papers to unwind. What I found was a hidden gem.

The road stretches on --
blank space bordered by empty lands --
towards an open secret.
Ruby, garnet, rainbows of red
sing songs of the hand, heart, earth.

Sandstone Cellars is coming together of two enterprising men and one talented winemaker. Scott Haupert and Manny Silerio are the "proprietors" of a little slice of Mason: a tasting room, a wine bar, and Santos Taqueria. Don Pullman, one of Texas's top winemakers, creates some of the most interesting wines around.

The Tasting Room

My first stop was the tasting room for Sandstone Cellars where visitors can taste the currently available Sandstone wines and purchase wines from around the state. Scott greeted Sean and I upon our arrival and took us through a tasting of eight wines.

Top: Handmade pottery; Top shelf: Texas wines; Middle shelf: Sandstone wines; Right: Bill Worrell originals

We started with the main wines, Sandstone's VI, VII, VII, IX, and XI (they name their wine based on its release). All the wines are dry red blends relying on Texas friendly varietals made from 100% Texas grapes (or Texas apples -- see the Cider Dessert Wine).  Touriga -- a Portuguese grape -- features in most of the wines.
  • VI: A 2008 blend of Touriga, Barbera, Primitivo, and Zinfandel provides a rich fruity experience with an oaky finish.
  • VII:  A 2009 Touriga (one of only 2 single style wines) is a dusty wine that is full of savory smoke; this was Sean's favorite.
  • VIII: A 2009 blend of Zinfandel, Touriga, and Merlot makes up the lightest wine that had a predominately fruity side.
  • IX: A 2009 blend of Tempranillo and Touriga is a great contrast to the other Temp-Touriga blend in Texas (from Perissos). This wine is a more natural or rough wine, compared to the one from Perissos. There is a surprising lightness to the wine that gives it depth and complexity while still containing earth tones.
  • XI: A 2010 blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Touriga, and Viognier is my favorite (a detailed post is forthcoming). This layered wine provides a journey through the Texas hill country, much like the drive to Mason is.
Note: XII is now available. This 2010 is a new more even blend of Tempranillo and Touriga (IX is 75 Temp/ 25 Touriga).

We moved on to three special wines. While sampling, we had the chance to compare the two ports.
Cider Dessert Wine
  •  IV: A 2006 Vintage port that is primarily Touriga with a small amount of Tempranillo, Barbera, and Viognier. This port is one to sit and relax while drinking; it is 19.5% alcohol with high sugar. There is a hint of caramel in the abundant but not overpowering sweetness.
  • XIII (I am unsure if the number is correct): This non-vintage 2010 port is still young (6 months in the bottle) with another high alcohol and sugar content. It is a lighter port -- especially with the earth tones -- but currently takes on more of a brandy feel. It reminds me of dried fruit.
  • Cider Dessert Wine: This unique wine is a fortified cider made from apples also used by Argus Cidery. The brandy is soft and the fruit is mild. The bite of the cider develops overtime as spiced apple flavors -- like cinnamon -- start to come through. I served this to beer drinkers; they loved it.
Note: New cider is on the way.

In addition to great wines to taste, the tasting room is a wine shop. Sandstone's dedication to the Texas wine industry is evident in the tasting room. They make an effort to carry small, independent winemakers, especially those without an affiliated winery or tasting room. When I visited I purchased a bottle of the well received Ponotoc Tempranillo (a winery that is currently being built in the nearby area).

And if you are looking for a unique gift, look no further. Beautiful pottery handmade by Scott's mom is available. And for art afficiandos, Southwestern artist Bill Worrell has a number of works available at the tasting room. It helps that he's a local and a friend. Worrell's work can be found, outside, inside, and on the bottles at Sandstone.
Cider Dessert Wine label by Bill Worrell

Santos Taqueria

Next we took a break and had lunch at the adjoining taqueria, primarily ran by Manny's mother Santos. It was great to see wine and relaxed home-cooked food side-by-side (wine can be purchased at the restaurant, tasting room, and wine shop). The simple, tasty food from family recipes warmed us on a dreary day.Sean highly recommends the shrimp taquitos. I went with simple hard shelled tacos. The meat was well seasoned and flavorful; the bonus was the missing grease one so often finds with this sort of dish. 

The Wine Bar

We ended our day with a short visit to the wine bar where we relaxed and enjoyed a glass of Sandstone wine. Locals an regulars sat alongside first-time visitors. The regulars were very friendly and helpful. However, they mainly kept  to the "bar" while we were there; with so many in such a small place, there wasn't much room for anyone else.

With limited space, Sean and I took to the rest of wine bar. We sat in the front room (where one enters). This room is more structured with multiple tables and chairs. Despite the gathering, there was plenty of space between groups, and the walls were decorated with art that leaned toward the natural and native. The side room, which was thoroughly occupied as well, boasted comfortable couches and a more homey feel. There is also space outside in back and front, but do to the weather (it was cold and a bit damp), we stayed inside.
The view coming from Fredericksburg (side of the tasting room)

Scott and Manny were incredible hosts on a dreary November day.  This was a visit I hope to do again soon and encourage anyone heading towards Fredericksburg to take the short drive out of town to stop at Sandstone. And if all works out, nearby Ponotoc will eventually provide another reason and more Sandstone wine.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Texas Wine Twitter Tuesday

The first Texas Wine Twitter Tuesday of 2013 came and went. And by all accounts, it was a success. In fact, fellow tweeters Russ Kane and Julie Baker shared the results via Facebook.
  • During the evening, #TXWine trended #1 on Twitter.
  • That breaks down to 618 tweets in a one hours time span (our 7pm-8pm block).
  • The audience following reached 105,510  -- a record for the monthly event.
Vinously Speaking just minutes before 7

This event was a lot more than just numbers, it was a coming together of people.On our end in San Antonio (at Vinously Speaking), the event allowed for people to meet, greet, drink, and chat. Our evening had a lot of great opportunities for those that braved the slick streets. And best of all, we started at 5.

The Wineries

First, we had winery representatives; we had Shannon from Pedernales Cellars and Jen from Bending Branch. It was good to have the wineries represented to share with the crowd the wine and the wineries. They each brought something special. 
Pedernales Alabrino and Loose Lips Larry

Shannon provided the brand new Albarino (available for a VERY limited time at the shop). And for those interested in the wine club, Shannon gave us the lowdown about the March shipment -- it will be a great treat with some good food (so, if you like Pedernales wine, join the wine club before March).

Some Bending Branch treats: Temprnaillo and Tannat Port

Jen brought a few not for sale treats (available at the winery). We sampled the Newsom Cabernet Sauvignon and the Tannat Port (which, I am told, is quickly running out). We also heard that Bending Branch has some new opportunities on the horizon, so keep your eyes open.


We also had great food to pair with our wines. On Saturday, Ceci spent time matching up six barbeque sauces with the six featured wines. In order to enjoy these sauces, MONZ BONZ BBQ  provided juicy roast turkey and brisket, and there was also mashed potatoes as a palate cleanser or for the vegetarians. The most discussed pairing was with the Albarino: turkey with Loose Lips Larry Sweet Georgia Honey Mustard.

The Fun

The best part of all was the people. Now, we didn't have lots of tweeters; most of the tweets were generated by myself, Sean Bircher (my partner in crime), Ceci Barretto (owner of Vinously Speaking), and Jennifer Beckmann (from Bending Branch). We had a number of first timer tweeters and a few others sharing a tweet now and again (and we are so glad they did!). We had lots of people with no Twitter accounts. After the evening was through, many are reconsidering that stance. Mainly,
the venue provided a place for friends to have fun and for new people to meet.

Vinously Speakinng during the thick of it (including my laptop -- to the left)
 I had a chance to  get to know a few of the guests, who I hope will be joining us next month and out at the wineries.
Very appropriate attire
  •  Marian Eure of Embroidery Creations made the great #txwine shirts. This long-time Texas wine lover and wine club member is finding herself drawn in more and more. If you are interested in custom shirts and embroidery, check out her site:
  • Regular Cena Cogburn shared her Texas wine experiences, especially her recent visits to the Texas wineries with Ceci.
  • Gloria and Ramon Barretto were there to support their daughter and drink good wine.
  • Jaime Lacey is a former volunteer coordinator for Leona Valley Winery in California. She has made tentative visits to the Texas wineries and hopeful more will come.
  • Laura Evans of Slyp and Slyde Productions came out and finally started to get the hang of tweeting and became more interested in wine.
  • BrandonRidens (aka DJ Phylo) was there to aid the pouring of the wine and the sending of the tweets. 
  • Lisa Gonzales sent her first two tweets.
  • Donovan shared a Spanish Tempranillo to taste alongside the Bending Branch one. The results were pretty even. The Texas one was fruit forward and smooth; the Spanish one was heartier. If we had added the Armadillo's Leap Red into the fray, it would have been the earthiest.
Our special #txwine shirt
There were so many more great people. In fact, that was what our evening was about. Sean always says that wine brings people together, and that was the case for us. Our group, which ended up at about 25 or so, made use of our tiny space to have a good time. That is what this is all about. SO the numbers aren't really telling the whole story. The first Texas Wine Twitter Tuesday was a much bigger success. Here's to next month: CHEERS!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Wine Notes: Bending Branch and Pederrnales

Tuesday, Jan. 8 sees the first TX Wine Twitter Tuesday for 2013. I'm coordinating the event at San Antonio's own Vinously Speaking. The wine line-up includes a number of recent releases from Bending Branch Winery and Pedernales Cellars. I have been lucky to already taste these great wines.

Wines for TX Wine Twitter Tuesday @ Vinously Speaking

The three wines available -- a Tempranillo, Tannat, and Albranio -- are ones that require time and patience. These are wines that ask the drinker to sip, to explore their depths.

Layers of greenery
give way: an expanse of fruit
nestled, protected.

Bending Branch Winery

Newsom Vineyards Tempranillo 2010

This wine saw release in November of 2012 and has been available at the winery and at the Pearl Farmer's Market in San Antonio.

When Bending Branch officially released this wine, Neal and Janice Newsom came for a visit to talk about their vineyard and grape growing/wine making in Texas. Neal provided a linguistic lesson to me, Russ Kane (@ Vintage Texas), and a gathering of Bending Branch family and friends. He explained some of the West Texas dialect, explaining the usage of y'all and fixin' to. Russ even provided a northern perspective.

The wine itself has been developing in the bottle. At first taste, I noticed an earthy aroma that was barely noticeable in the tasting; the oak of the barrel aging did come through lightly at the end. That aroma has softened, as well as the taste. This Tempranillo is now focusing on the other components, such as the berry front. The berry, originally, was heavy and clean; it moved naturally into the earth at the end. Now, the wine has a smooth darkness from beginning to end as the the berry and earth blend together. The new sensation is more subtle and crafted as the two flavors intertwine to add a depth to the berry flavor and a softness to the earth and oak.

Texas Tannat (Reddy Vineyards)

Bending Branch has become known for their Tannats. Until last year, the only Tannats available came from California grapes. As of Fall 2012, the Texas grown Tannat has dominated at the winery. This wine has also been available at the Pearl Farmer's Market.

Compared to earlier Tannats, this wine is softer. The sweet-like dark fruits -- I am thinking more in the line of a ripe dark plum or similar fruits -- originally gave way into a bold earth taste. Like the Tempranillo, the bottle aging has been kind. The earth is more pronounced from the beginning, bringing a more natural taste to the wine. The fruit has softened and has become one of a number of flavors. Compared to the Tempranillo, the fruit is still more pronounced.

Pedernales Cellars

Pedernales Cellars saw two January releases: Albarino and 2012 Vino Blanco. The Albarino will be available at the tasting at Vinously Speaking, but the new Vino Blanco will not.


This wine comes on strong with acidic citrus fruits like grapefruit. There is this sense of sweetness, but the wine is dry. In fact, the dryness coupled with the acid allows for a crisp wine that bites back (tried alongside the Picpoul Blanc -- aka Lip Stinger -- from Bending Branch makes it clear that the similar sensation is occurring here). As the wine softens through tasting, stone fruits, especially apricots, are more noticable. It is at this point that the acidicity starts to decline and the characteristic earthiness of Pedernales' wines starts to come through. It is this mix of sensations that made this wine drinkable on a cold winter day and yet will be a refreshing treat once the heat arrives.

Vino Blanco 2012

Though this won't be at the tasting, I thought it only fair to provide a quick review. This blend is still heavy on the Viognier, which can be easily noted. Like in previous years, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc round out the blend (but in different proportions compared to the 2011). That helps this blend, as I saw it as more quintessentially Fredericksburg and Stonewall in flavor. Apple and peach come through, along with dried apricot. The wine ends up being light and soft, especially compared to the acidic Albarino.

These wines should be popular with the tasters at Vinously Speaking. Along with the three other wines, there are sure to generate lots of talk.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

TX Wine Twitter Tuesday -- Jan.8 at Vinoulsy Speaking

TX Wine Twitter Tuesday is nearly upon us -- this Tuesday, January 8. Texas wine lovers will gather on Twitter. From 7pm-8 we will discuss Texas wine and celebrate the great wine bars, shops, and retailers that help to bring Texas wine closer to all of our homes. And to make it even more fun, we are doing meet-ups and some of those great locations.

 It doesn't matter where you are, you can join us. If you are near any of the major hubs, there will be gatherings somewhere. If you are interested in joining us, I will direct you to the best two lists out there. Our fearless leaders, Russ Kane @ Vintage Texas and Jeff Cope @ TX Wine Lover have the entire lowdown.

For the San Antonio area readers and wine enthusiasts, I have you covered. There will be a tweet-up at the new Whole Foods @ Bar Blanco (Blanco and 1604 at the Vineyard). However, may I recommend joining me at Vinously Speaking?

Meet-up Vinously Speaking

Cecilia Barretto and Melissa Unsell at Vinously Speaking have an incredible event planned. It isn't just a tweet-up, but a whole lot more. I'll be coordinating the Twitter Chat, but they have the rest well prepared. So, what wonders will they unleash?

For starters, this is more than just a Texas wine tasting and tweeting; this is a Vinously Speaking tasting. The wine starts to flow at 5pm (two hours before the tweeting begins) and will run through the Twitter chat at 8. And it isn't just great wine. All six wines featured will also be paired with barbeque sauce (and great meat to go with that sauce). Guests can come at any time, and if you can't stay till 7, we would love for you to swing by after work, do a tasting, and then re-join us online at 7.

And to prepare your taste buds, let me give you a quick look at the six featured wines from two of my favorite wineries: Pedernales Cellars and Bending Branch Winery. (And best of all, representatives from both wineries will be out to help taste some of the great wines that are available for purchase at the shop.)

From Pedernales: These wines will be priced right to tempt your palate and take home. These wines have some bite and are highlighted by the brand new Albarino. This wine is normally not available outside of the winery, but Pedernales decided to bend the rules just for this Tuesday. And let me say, it is a bold, crisp white that has great fruit notes on the nose; please don't miss the chance to try this wine in San Antonio.
Armadillo's Leap White
Armadillo's Leap Red
2012 Albarino!

From Bending Branch: Two great Texas wines are in the line-up: Texas Tannat and Newsom Vineyard Tempranillo (a softer, smoother one compared to the bolder, earthy Armadillo's Leap Tempranillo blend). And to set your lips to puckering, the Picpoul Blanc will also be there for tasting. I also heard that Bending Branch may bring out a few more for tasting only, but these three great wines will be available to buy.

Texas Tannat
Newsom Tempranillo
Picpoul Blanc

I hope you can join us, either at one of the main wine bars and shops or just online. And of course, for those in the San Antonio area, please come out to Vinously Speaking; it will be a great time.

Find Vinously Speaking at ...

7271 Wurzbach, Ste 117 – San Antonio, TX – 78240 (
They are at the corner of Wurzbach Babcock in the shopping center behind the McDonald's
Date & Time:
Tuesday, Jan. 8 from 5pm-8pm

Tweet Sheets

Below are Tweet Sheets you can use to help you follow the chat and send tweets. To see larger, or view a slide shot, click on the picture.

Sheet 1A: Following a chat via Twitter
Sheet 1B: Sending a Tweet via Twitter

Sheet 2A: Following via TweetChat
Sending a Tweet via TweetChat

Sheet 3A: Following via Mobile App
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